Tuesday April 1st, 2008

Just hours after Bill Belichick's most expansive public comments yet on his role in the Patriots' Spygate controversy, both he and Patriots owner Robert Kraft stood before the entire collection of NFL owners and head coaches Tuesday morning to address the nearly seven-month issue and its negative impact on the league.

Kraft spoke first and apologized to his fellow owners and the league's head coaches, who are gathered here at The Breakers hotel for the NFL's annual meeting. In a short but impassioned address that was said to be unscripted, Kraft asked NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for a chance to speak to the room and wound up telling the owners and coaches how sorry he and his family was that his team had caused damage to the NFL and its brand. He expressed remorse that his franchise brought negative attention to the league.

Kraft not only sought to make amends for the Spygate episode and its resulting fallout, said a source with knowledge of the address, but went on to acknowledge the Patriots' season-long drama had negatively impacted the other 31 clubs in the league, who are, in essence, his business partners. Kraft expressed the respect he and his family have for the NFL's shield, which is the league's logo and the most recognizable element of its brand.

Kraft's words were met with resounding applause, and when he finished, Belichick rose and asked Goodell for permission to speak, as well. While falling short of offering an apology per se, Belichick gave a version of the same explanation for his team's actions that he had shared with reporters Tuesday morning at the AFC head coaches' media breakfast.

Most of that centered on what he said was his erroneous interpretation of the league's rules against videotaping an opponent's signals, and how the Patriots have modified and reviewed their procedures organizationally, so as to not run afoul of the league's rules or expectations in any further way. His comments were also well received.

Colts head coach Tony Dungy sought out Kraft sometime after the owner's speech, and in the hotel lobby told him how appreciated, well-received and much-needed his sentiments were. When asked about Kraft's words of contrition, Dungy, without denying them, said he felt it best if they remained private among the owners and coaches who were in the room.

"It was very, very sincere and heartfelt, and I appreciate what he had to say,'' Dungy said. "But I think it's best to leave that in that room.''

Colts general manager Bill Polian, who has had his share of rivalry with the Patriots through the years, wasn't in the special session of owners and coaches, but was familiar with Kraft's comments.

"I think it's a wonderful thing for Mr. Kraft to do,'' Polian said. "Personally, I don't think it was necessary, but that's just typical of (him). I certainly appreciate everything Mr. Kraft and his family have done. They've made this league a much better league since they've been members of it, and they continue to do so.

"From a working stiff's point of view, he certainly doesn't need to apologize for anything. The New England Patriots have been a bellweather for this league as long as the Kraft family has owned them. As far as being good citizens of the NFL, they're at the top.''

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